Gripping and Powerful, Forest Moon Theater's "I Never Saw Another Butterfly" has a Profound Effect on Audiences
Based on a collection of art and poetry created by children who lived in the concentration camp known as Theresienstadt, Celeste Raspanti’s powerful I Never Saw Another Butterfly, onstage now at Forest Moon Theater under the direction of Judy M. Dove, is an unforgettable experience. Coupled with artwork and the guest speakers scheduled at different performances, one of which will feature an adult child of holocaust survivors, it’s evident that the theater really did want to make this show a full experience, one that will teach people of all ages of the horror of the holocaust and, hopefully, will remind us all of the importance of learning from this horrific event and of moving forward, not backward.
The production is haunting right from the start, as the young actors in the cast, portraying different children affected by the holocaust, rattle off their characters’ death dates. Freezing in motion and showcasing horrified faces, these young performers instantly draw viewers in to what will prove to be a riveting, can’t-look-away show.
Shifting back and forth in time, Raspanti’s script focuses on several children and their experiences as a result of the holocaust. Her main focus, though, is on young Raja (Amanda Smith), a child with the heart and strength of a survivor. Smith is excellent in her role. Her performance is compelling, raw, and extremely vulnerable, making this story come alive in an incredibly gripping way. Even in moments when she is not the onstage focus, it is impossible to look away from her. She is so in the moment, so completely Raja that she transports this production to an almost ethereal plane.
Also nice here is Dove’s use of movement and staging. The characters move gracefully across the stage, as if their movements have been perfectly choreographed in tune with Raspanti’s lilting, poetic prose, which manages to be pretty despite the horror contained inside.
The six young actors who make up the production’s “Children of Terezin” are perfect in their movement and delivery, their visible youth and innocent faces making this true story all the more powerful. In an adult role, Bonnie Webster’s portrayal of Irena, the children’s teacher who desperately tries to make the best of a horrible situation, stands out. She conveys both the character’s veiled desperation and strong desire to believe in hope simultaneously, making the character as complex as the script calls for.
Perfect lighting and appropriate costumes add to the realism of the play.However, all of these things take a backseat to the story, which will leave viewers a bit shell-shocked. At Saturday night’s performance, the production was met with a long, resounding applause session, but no ovation. The feeling in the room was that, while the production was fabulous, everyone was too affected by what they’d seen to stand, to leave the moment behind, and really, with a piece like this one, that’s exactly how it should be.
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